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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Sporting Kansas City: Final Score 2-1 as the Lions Extend Unbeaten Streak to Seven Games

Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel scored in the first half and the Lions held on through an intense second-half onslaught by the hosts.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City just keeps doing things it has never done before. A week after beating the Chicago Fire at home for the first time ever, the Lions went into Children’s Mercy Park and claimed their first win there with a 2-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City. Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel scored just a couple of minutes apart in the first half and Orlando (7-2-4, 25 points) held on for dear life through a rough second half, conceding a Johnny Russell goal but ultimately holding off SKC (6-5-2, 20 points).

With the win, Orlando climbed to second in the Eastern Conference standings, winning a tiebreaker over Philadelphia on goals scored and another over Toronto on goal differential. The Lions also extended their unbeaten streak to seven games (5-0-2), setting a new club record in the MLS era.

“I’m very proud of the three points,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I think tonight we beat one of the best teams in the West.”

Pareja’s lineup included some squad rotation in key areas. Pedro Gallese manned the goal as usual, with Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Ruan slotting in on the back line. Kamal Miller went to the bench, while Antonio Carlos was not in the match day squad at all. Andres Perea and Michel stepped into the midfield with Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez, with Chris Mueller and Mauricio Pereyra on the bench, and Nani took up an attacking position with Akindele, as Daryl Dike got his first breather since the regular season restarted. Dike was in the matchday squad, though.

Sporting Kansas City pushed high up the pitch early and had success turning Orlando over and keeping possession, but without getting any real clear-cut scoring opportunities. The first good chance of the match went to the hosts after Schlegel was booked for a handball when he went down to block a pass on a counter attack and the ball hit his arm. Graham Zusi curled his set piece wide of the left post on the set piece.

Orlando saw almost no possession in the attacking third in the first 20 minutes, but got an opportunity when a through ball found Michel and he was taken down by Matt Besler, setting up a free kick. Nani sent in the set piece to Schlegel, who got under it and headed well over the bar at the near post in the 25th minute.

The Lions started getting more opportunities and more set pieces as the half went on. But it was the counter where Orlando found success. Ruan found himself in space and threaded an excellent through ball for a perfectly timed run by Akindele. Tesho sized up goalkeeper Tim Melia and curled a shot around him and inside the near post to make it 1-0 in the 36th minute.

For Akindele, it was his second league goal of the season. He last scored in a non-MLS is Back knockout stage match back on July 14 against New York City FC during the group stage.

“It’s something that we’ve talked about before the game,” Akindele said about the team attacking SKC’s offside trap. “We have, obviously, a fast lineup out there, especially with me and Benji. We knew that we should be looking for the balls in behind.

“On my goal, I saw Ruan just taking it in. Benji did a good job of making the first run and he kind of brought a defender or two with him. Then I saw the gap open up and Ruan made a great pass. I honestly thought I was offside because I had so much space, but then I just relaxed, waited for the spot to open up, and finished it.”

The dust had barely settled from Akindele’s goal when the Lions struck again in transition. Nani sent a gorgeous ball over the top for Michel to run onto. Besler grabbed him and pulled him back, but Michel fought him off and slotted home past Melia in the 38th minute to double the lead. The strike gave Michel his fourth goal in the last five games.

“Benji is very docile to coach,” Pareja said. “He is growing. He is understanding and interpreting much better the spaces.”

“ I think that [Michel’s] thinking about the game more than he was before,” Akindele said. “Benji is at practice before everyone and he’s working on his own and that’s something nobody sees. He’s hitting the gym. He’s passing the ball. He’s doing a lot of work on his own this year, really trying to improve himself as a player. You know, that’s something that nobody sees, he hasn’t been talking about it but it’s happening and I think everybody’s seen the results that right now.”

The end of the first half consisted of several Sporting KC corners that Orlando defended well, and the Lions took their 2-0 lead into the break. Orlando led in shots (4-3), as well as shots on goal (2-0) and possession (53.6%). SKC racked up a 7-1 edge in corner kicks. Both teams were 86% accurate with their passes.

After the break, the Lions did what they have done far too often this year and came out of the locker room with too little energy and passion. SKC no doubt heard an earful from Peter Vermes at halftime and played like it, owning the ball and not giving it up at all. There were more corners and crosses and the hosts finally made it pay off.

A cross to the back post was played too softly by Kyle Smith, who tried to usher it out rather than attacking it and Russell played right through him, out-muscling the Orlando left back and heading home to make it 2-1.

There was no let-up from the hosts, who seemingly possessed the ball for the entire first 15 minutes of the second period. Orlando couldn’t find the handle and when the Lions did get a touch, they’d immediately turn it right back over.

“I think they were just throwing numbers forward,” Akindele said. “Their center backs did well at winning the long balls that we tried to hit out. So, you know, that’s on me and the forwards. I think we could have done a little bit better job of trying to hold the ball up in the second half. That might have eased some pressure.”

After a shot from Russell fizzed wide in the 60th minute, Pareja brought Pereyra into the match to help get more of the ball but it was merely a band-aid, and the Lions needed reinforcements from Dike and Mueller to calm things down a bit — but only a bit. Orlando did start to get on the ball more but certainly not as much as they would have liked.

Gadi Kinda fired a couple of shots from distance over the bar in the 67th and 70th minutes and Nani did the same at the end of a good-looking counterattacking buildup in the 75th.

A minute later, the hosts appeared to tie up the match when a clearance by Jansson hit Russell and bounced behind the beefy Swede. It was picked up by SKC and was sent into the area where it got lost in traffic and trickled over the line, but the play was ruled offside and it was upheld on video review.

Orlando’s best opportunity at an insurance goal came in the 84th, when Urso knocked a ball out of the air to himself and hit it first time, sending a rocket toward goal. We’ll never know if it would have gone in because it hit Mueller in the stomach. A minute later, Dike got the ball and went 1-v-3 against the Sporting defense, freeing himself up for a shot but he sent his effort over the bar.

Gerso sent a laser on target from outside the area in the 86th but Gallese was there to knock it over the bar.

Defender Winston Reid got the last good look for SKC in stoppage time with a header off a corner kick but he sent his shot wide and the Lions held on to get the win.

Sporting Kansas City finished with more shots (16-8), but Orlando got more on frame (3-2). SKC had a commanding 13-1 advantage in corners and turned the possession around to hold 56.6% of the ball. The hosts passed at an 83% rate but the Lions faded in the second half to just 77%.

“We were very happy with the three points, and the first half, we played very well,” Jansson said. “The second half is completely Sporting so we are a little bit disappointed on the second half, but we came here to get three points and sometimes you need to do it different ways.”

The Lions have one more on the road before returning to Exploria Stadium, with a Sunday night match-up at FC Dallas in Oscar Pareja’s return to his old address. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m.

Lion Links

Lion Links: 12/2/23

The Pride sign a new keeper, the MLS playoffs continue, the USWNT is in action, and more.



Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Salutations on this satisfactory Saturday, Mane Landers. We’re heading for the home stretch of 2023, and what a year it has been. Make sure that you are catching all of our Season in Review articles for both the Orlando City and Orlando Pride players. Things tend to happen personnel-wise in December, so be prepared. Until then, let’s check out today’s links. But first, let’s wish a happy 26th birthday to Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar.

Pride Sign a New Keeper

The Orlando Pride signed Finnish goalkeeper Sofia Manner from FC Honka of Finland’s top flight, the Kansallinen Liiga. With the addition of Manner, the Pride have four keepers on the roster heading into 2024. Manner is expected to compete for the starting job, though the same could be said of both Anna Moorhouse and Carly Nelson. It is unlikely all four netminders will be on the Pride once the season starts. Manner has international experience and was the best keeper in the Kansallinen Liiga.

MLS Conference Finals Tonight

I wouldn’t blame you if you decided not to watch the remainder of the MLS playoffs after last weekend’s disappointing result. However, if you are going see how it all sorts out, you might want to study up on the matches. We’re all too aware that the Columbus Crew will be facing FC Cincinnati to see which club wins the Eastern Conference. Over on the other side, LAFC will take on the Houston Dynamo to determine the Western Conference champion.

MLS Player Moves

As the playoffs come to a close, the signings and transfers around the league are ramping up, but who will stay and who will go? New York Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood is heading to Nashville SC as reported by The Athletic (paywalled) since Dax McCarthy is out of contract there and won’t be returning.

The Philadelphia Union have signed midfielder Jesus Bueno to a new three-year contract through 2026 with an option for 2027. Meanwhile, Gustavo Bou won’t be returning to the New England Revolution. So, um…maybe he’d like to come south and score goals for Orlando City rather than against the Lions? Before anyone gets too crazy, it should be on a non-DP deal.

USWNT Hosts China

The USWNT is back in friendly action against China this afternoon in Ft. Lauderdale at 3 p.m. and then on Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. in Frisco TX. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore will be in charge since newly-named Head Coach Emma Hayes doesn’t start until the 2023-2024 Women’s Super League season in England is over. Hayes is the current head coach of Chelsea FC Women’s. This is the first match between the two teams since 2018, and a lot has changed. The USWNT has been very solid on defense in 2023, allowing only two goals back in the SheBelieves Cup.

Free Kicks

  • If you haven’t heard of a “sin bin,” think of it like a penalty box in hockey. The idea has been getting a runout in lower league matches in English football by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) with some good results. It’s not yet confirmed, but MLS may institute the change in 2024. The idea is to reduce dissension by having a player sit for 10 minutes during a match. Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou has spoken out against the idea. What do you think of the concept?
  • Real Salt Lake has promoted Kurt Schmid to sporting director and interim chief soccer officer.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo will have to deal with a $1 billion class-action lawsuit for his role in promoting NFTs for Binance. Maybe that’s why he signed for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League?
  • Speaking of the Saudi Pro League, it looks like Mohamed Salah may not be leaving EPL side Liverpool anytime soon. The prolific striker is looking for a new contract to stay at Anfield.
  • I’ll take things Pedro Gallese would not do for $400, Alex.

That will do it for today. Please go forth and enjoy your weekend!

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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Kyle Smith

Let’s look back at The Accountant’s fifth MLS season.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Fullback Kyle Smith was originally signed on Dec. 21, 2018 when James O’Connor was Orlando City’s head coach. He proved to be a valuable Swiss Army knife-type player and earned a new contract on March 29, 2021 through the 2022 season with a 2023 club option. Orlando City picked up his 2023 option at the end of the 2022 season but then signed Smith to a new one-year contract for 2023 just weeks later with an option for 2024.

Let’s have a look back at The Accountant’s fifth MLS season.

Statistical Breakdown

Smith appeared in 25 matches during the 2023 regular season, starting 17 times and logging 1,501 minutes. It was his third-most appearances but his second-most minutes since making the jump from Louisville City to MLS ahead of the 2019 season. He scored one goal and assisted on three others, setting a new career high in the latter category. Smith attempted seven shots, putting two on target. He passed at a 78.7% clip, including nine key passes, five successful crosses, and 36 successful long passes. Defensively, Smith recorded 35 tackles, 16 interceptions, 40 clearances, and two blocked shots. He drew eight fouls while committing 20 and was booked five times on the year.

The 31-year-old appeared in all three of Orlando City’s three playoff matches — both off the bench — and logged 65 minutes. He did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting one shot, which he put on frame. He passed at an 82.5% rate in the postseason. He posted two tackles and a clearance defensively. He did not commit a foul or draw one and he wasn’t booked.

In the 2023 Concacaf Champions League, Smith came off the bench in the first leg at Tigres, playing minutes, passing at just a 25% rate (small sample size), did not attempt a shot, did not draw or concede a foul, and was not booked.

During Leagues Cup play, Smith appeared in all three of Orlando’s matches (all starts), logging 150 minutes. He did not contribute to a goal or attempt a shot in the tournament, committing four fouls and earning two yellow cards. Smith did not play in Orlando City’s lone U.S. Open Cup match.

Best Game

Smith’s best match of 2023 came in Orlando City’s 1-1 home draw against Atlanta United on May 27, and not only because that’s when he scored his lone goal of the season, although that doesn’t hurt. El Soldado started and went the full 90 minutes. He fired two shots on the night, putting one on target (and in the net), and passed at an exceptional 90.3% rate on 31 attempts, which was his third-best passing night of the season. He completed two successful long balls on two attempts, chipping in four clearances (second only to Antonio Carlos), a tackle, and an interception on the night. His big moment came in the 30th minute, when a well-worked attack up the left kicked out to him on the right side. Smith was perfectly positioned and made no mistake in putting the Lions ahead 1-0.

Although the match was spoiled by a late equalizer, Smith turned in one of his best performances since joining Orlando City and if not for his goal, the outcome might have been a lot more somber than a 1-1 draw.

2023 Final Grade

Smith received a composite score of 6 out of 10 for his 2023 performance from The Mane Land staff. This is an improvement over the 5.5 he earned last year but slightly below the 6.5 he earned for the 2021 season. Previously, Smith was given a 5.5 in 2020 and he got the same score after the 2019 season. The staff awarded Smith for his effort, versatility, and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. He is the quintessential team player. But beyond all of the above, he simply played well most of his minutes on the pitch. At his age, he’s going to struggle to contain the league’s speediest wing players, particularly when playing on his weaker left side, but his ability to adapt is unquestioned. The perfect example of that was when he was tucking inside from his fullback spot earlier in the season to add an additional player to the midfield and freeing Facundo Torres up to have more space in which to operate on the right side.

2024 Outlook

Smith’s return may ultimately rest with whether or not Oscar Pareja stays on with the Lions, although a decision might need to be made earlier than that, as the club must make a decision on his option. Pareja has valued Smith’s versatility and work ethic over the last few years, and with more competitions and matches than ever before, it’s always good to have a depth player who can plug and play in multiple positions. He played his second-most MLS minutes in 2023, so he’s still seeing the field plenty.

If I had to guess, and this section is for exactly that, I’d say the club will either exercise his option or sign him to a new one-year deal with an option year for 2025. However, what complicates matters is that Smith is over age 24 and has played five MLS seasons, which means he’s eligible for free agency. If he’s back in 2024, I would expect him to again be a key backup at both fullback positions, getting some spot starts in U.S. Open Cup or when fixture congestion is heavy.

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Orlando City

2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Abdi Salim

We continue our Orlando City player retrospectives with a look at one of the Lions’ 2023 draft picks.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City used its third pick of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft to select Abdi Salim with the 17th overall pick. Salim played his college soccer at Syracuse and the Lions picked up the center back to help with depth at a position that didn’t really have a ton of established bodies behind Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson, and Rodrigo Schlegel. He was then signed to a one-year deal in February that contained three option years for the 2024, 2025, and 2026 seasons.

Let’s have a look at Salim’s first season as a professional.

Statistical Breakdown

Salim made his Major League Soccer debut at home against FC Cincinnati on March 4. It was Salim’s only start of the year and he went the full 90 minutes as the Lions drew 0-0 against the eventual Supporters’ Shield winners. He made two other appearances in away games against D.C. United and Charlotte FC, both of which ended as 1-1 draws as he finished with 148 MLS minutes on the year.

Defensively he recorded four tackles, four interceptions, three clearances, a block, and won two aerial duels. He did not record any offensive statistics, but was solid with his distribution as he averaged 87.3% passing accuracy and completed one cross and one long ball each.

Given that it was only his first season as a professional, he spent the bulk of his time in MLS NEXT Pro with Orlando City B. With the Young Lions he played in 16 matches, starting 14 of them and racking up 1,162 minutes. He finished with 11 interceptions and a tackle while committing seven fouls and drawing 11 and picking up one yellow card. Salim took nine shots, put two of them on target, and scored a goal on each one he got on frame. He passed very well, finishing with a 90.2% success rate, two key passes, and 18 long balls.

Best Game

The honor of his best game goes to his first ever professional appearance, when he started and played the whole game in the aforementioned 0-0 draw against FC Cincinnati. Salim finished with three tackles, three clearances, and an interception while passing with 87% accuracy, completing a long ball on his only attempt, and helping the Lions keep a clean sheet at home. He was a bit shaky at first, as he was deployed as the third center back in a three-man back line, but he settled down in the second half and finished with a grade of 5.5 out of 10 from Nic Josey.

2023 Final Grade

Given that Salim didn’t crack 200 minutes and we require a minimum of 450 to award a grade for the season, he receives an incomplete for the 2023 season. He did some good things when down with Orlando City B, and filled in well enough with the senior side when called upon, but we simply need to see more of him in order to figure out what he’s really able to do.

2024 Outlook

It’s likely that Salim will spend more time with Orlando City B next season, but with no one seemingly laying claim to the fourth center back position, he should have a chance to show what he’s capable of during preseason. He seemed to be in competition with Thomas Williams for the back up spot not occupied by Rodrigo Schlegel, but he may have moved past him in the pecking order as he made more appearances than the Homegrown signing, both with OCSC and OCB. Regardless, as an inexpensive young player with potential, there’s no reason to think he won’t be here next year.

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